101 bills are signed into law

Blood-alcohol level for drunken driving reduced to 0.08%

Measure `will save lives'

Auto registration fee raised $6 to support medical services

April 11, 2001|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Advocates applauded yesterday as Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed into law legislation that effectively lowers the standard at which motorists in Maryland will be considered drunk.

The governor signed yesterday 101 bills approved by the General Assembly during the 90-day session that ended Monday night. Many were local bills that attracted little attention. But nearly two dozen supporters crowded behind Glendening as he signed the drunken-driving legislation.

"No single law will solve the problem, but the steps we are taking will save lives and help prevent more families from experiencing the devastation of losing a loved one to a drunk driver," Glendening said.

For years, advocacy groups had tried and failed to reduce from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent the blood-alcohol level needed to convict someone of the most serious drunken-driving offense. Each time, they lost to opponents who argued that the state should enforce laws on the books.

This year, the advocates were helped by the threatened loss to the state of millions in federal highway money.

"There's no question that this legislation should have passed on its merits years ago," said Sen. Ida G. Ruben, a Montgomery County Democrat and the bill's chief sponsor. "I think it's absolutely fantastic that we'll have safer roads for our constituents and for people driving through Maryland."

In addition to the 0.08 law, which will take effect Sept. 30, the governor signed a measure that will allow prosecutors to tell judges and juries when defendants refuse to take a Breathalyzer test. But advocates regretted losing a fight to ban open containers of alcohol in cars.

Del. Carol S. Petzold, a Montgomery County Democrat, said supporters will try to push the bill through next year. Again, federal dollars will be at stake. "That'll be the leverage," she said.

Auto registration fee

Another key measure signed yesterday raises the fee Marylanders pay to register their cars every two years from $70 to $76. The increase will bring in about $13 million a year and is designed to keep the state's emergency medical system on sound financial footing.

The system, which includes state police MedEvac helicopters and the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, was facing a $7.2 million deficit.

Major pieces of Glendening's agenda, such as bills to prohibit race-based traffic stops, raise the amount of state business targeted to minority-owned firms and extend Maryland's anti-bias laws to include homosexuals, will be signed in coming weeks.

Lumbee Indians bond

Yesterday's bill signing was a moment that Clark Oxendine and Tina Morgan did not want to miss. The Lumbee Indians posed behind Glendening as he signed an extension to a $250,000 bond bill they hope will bring new life to the Baltimore American Indian Center.

"This [bill signing] is something that we've never been a part of," Oxendine said. "It's a blessing."

The center at 113 S. Broadway has been a part of city life for 32 years, serving as a meeting place for the 6,000 Lumbee Indians living in the area. The center has lost several grants in recent years, forcing board members to cut hours and reduce staff from 17 employees to one part-time worker.

Morgan said the center has stayed open by raising money at weekly fish fries. Board members want to use the bond bill and matching contributions to renovate the center, add a gymnasium and expand hours.

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